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The Model of the Jesuit Mission in China

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Published on Jun 15, 2011

The missionary strategies used by the Jesuits in China constitute an advanced and effective model for the enculturalization of Christianity. This is what emerged, in brief, from the conference held last May 3rd at the Pontifical Gregorian University by Father Klaus Schatz, of the Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule Sankt Georgen of Frankfort.The meeting was part of a series of conferences on the theme of "Conversion. A Change of God? Experiences and reflections on the interreligious dialogue", launched by the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies of Religion and Culture (ISIRC) of the Gregorian University.Speaking of the Chinese mission founded by Father Matteo Ricci and carried forth between XVI and XVIII centuries, the professor stressed that the scope of the Jesuits, at the beginning, was especially to win over the elite, the ruling class, the literati and the "mandarins". In this way, they wanted in fact to gain the trust of the court and the emperor, who were the ones who shaped an "official" interpretation of religious rites, so as to counteract the syncretism made of "idolatry, superstition and magic" which constituted the popular religion.  This missionary method aimed at earning credit with the upper echelons of political society and in the long term encounter with the culture, using Confucianism as a lever. For this reason, the Jesuits aimed also at the diffusion of western sciences and technology, like astronomy.However the novelty of Christianity, presented by the Jesuits, was that every man can have a direct and immediate relationship with God. A message unheard of in a country where only the emperor, as the "Son of Heaven" could sacrifice to heaven.  On the other hand, the different attitude of the Dominican and Franciscan Friars and the missionaries of the Vatican Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith aimed at the China of the "subcultures", of popular movements, of sects, and openly took a distance from politics and affairs of state, rejecting any worldly science as an instrument of apostolate.Historically—the professor explained—the method of the Jesuit mission in China was the object of diverse criticisms and judged a medieval "top down" model of mission.However, the foresight of Father Ricci brought forth notable fruits, for example in Korea, which constitutes the unique example in the history of Christianity of a local church starting not through preaching, or direct personal contact with missionaries or Christians, but through literature. In fact, in Korea, the Christian faith got on its feet towards the end of the XVIII century, precisely because a group of Koreans started to read Father Ricci's book on the true teaching of the Lord of Heaven.www.unigre.it/isirc

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